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Flying boats sail the skies

By Michael Brooke

A Catalina flying boat soars overhead as Sir Richard Kingsland (right) chats with an aircraft enthusiast at Rathmines Park.

A Catalina flying boat soars overhead as Sir Richard Kingsland (right) chats with an aircraft enthusiast at Rathmines Park.

Photo by Michael Brooke

Fast Facts

No. 9SQN stood up in 1939 to embark air support for Navy operations, with crews in Australian cruisers.

No 11SQN stood up in 1939, and helped in the search for HMAS Sydney in 1941. Other activities included mining and bombing missions.

No. 20SQN stood up in 1941 and flew Catalinas. Its tasks included ASW, escort, reconnaisance patrols and civilian evacuation.

No. 40SQN was a transport squadron, working in Port Moresby, Milne Bay and Madang After the war it brought home POWs and troops.

No. 41SQN formed in 1924, flying Empire, Mariner and Dorniers. Flying transport missions into New Guinea, it operated the marine section.

No. 43SQN was formed in 1943 and flew Catalinas, with missions the same as Nos. 11 and 20SQNs.

No. 107SQN flew Kingfishers on anti-submarine and convoy escort patrols.

RATHMINES Flying Boat Base no longer resonates to the drone of maritime aircraft or the bustle of a wartime military base.

Nevertheless, it remains important to the WWII veterans who gathered there recently to celebrate its listing for protection on the NSW State Heritage Register.

Rathmines Park at Lake Macquarie, the largest RAAF flying boat base in the southern hemisphere during WWII, ceased operations in 1952 but the site has a special place in the hearts of these veterans.

They were led by Sir Richard Kingsland, a former Commanding Officer of No. 20 SQN.
Sir Richard said the site has great historical significance.

Catalina flying boats and air crews stationed at Rathmines were involved in significant WWII events that ended the threat of invasion to Australia, including the mining of Manila Harbour and the waters off the east coast of China, and the Battle of the Coral Sea.

“Rathmines is the only surviving and intact flying boat base in Australia and it is important that its significance is recognised,” he said.

“I am proud to join the celebration that Rathmines Park and its remaining buildings are to be protected, so future generations can learn about the important contribution the men and women stationed here made during the war,” he said.

Established in 1939, the base was at one time or another home for flying boats from Nos. 9 (Walrus), 11, 20 and 43 (Catalina), 40 (Sunderland and Martins), 41 (Dorniers, Martins and Empires) and 107 (Kingfisher) SQNs.

It was also a base for the Seaplane Training Flight, No. 3 Operational Training Unit and the Air Force marine section.

This comprised a force of motorised and non-motorised search and rescue, stores and other vessels.

Catalina Flying Boats were the only aircraft to see service with the RAAF for the wartime operations against Japan. They conducted overt and covert operations such as bombing, mine laying, troop support, inserting coast-watchers and air-sea rescue missions.

In 1942 Sir Richard took a Catalina into Japanese-held Rabaul, flew through a curtain of anti-aircraft fire to bomb a wharf, and returned home unscathed.

Earlier, in 1940, he flew a Sunderland flying boat to Morocco where he brazenly rescued the Allied Commander-in-Chief Lord Gort and Britain’s Information Minister Duff Cooper, who had been captured by the Vichy French.

At its peak, over 3,000 men and women served at the base, which comprised 230 buildings and marine facilities. Forty aircraft were in service and over 200 aircrews trained there.

Rathmines ceased operations in 1952 as flying boats were withdrawn from service.





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